Thankfully I came through unscathed, if a little stiff and sore, and that evening we were taken to a wonderful Chinese restaurant regularly frequented by the players. We enjoyed an outstanding meal in the company of Andrew Cole and Dion Dublin and discussed all things United before they announced the teams for the following day’s game.
Breakfast was tense the next morning. I was anxious, as though the closer my dream came to reality the more I feared it would turn out to be a nightmare. Mind you, I wasn’t helping myself: I doubt many United stars’ pre-match meals consist of waffles with banana and Nutella.
When we arrived at the stadium we were taken to a private box and treated to tea and croissants before entering the home dressing room, where I sat in the corner normally occupied by Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes. Denis Irwin reiterated our enjoyment was the most important thing and I felt that if I could avoid making a total fool of myself then that would be enough. I admit it’s probably not the same mentality Roy Keane used to arm himself with before a game...
Kit on and boots laced, we made our way down the tunnel with the Champions League music blaring. Alan Keegan, the stadium announcer, introduced the teams just as I’ve heard him do hundreds of times before. The difference was that this time is that I was in one of them.
It is impossible to convey how big the stadium feels for the first few minutes. Although the pitch is no bigger than any other, it feels that way at first due to the imposing surroundings. I started off at right-back with a simple aim: a touch of the ball. I managed this surprisingly quickly and even managed to find a pass. Not exactly an 80-yard Beckham cross-field floater but a pass nevertheless.